Pep Guardiola could find himself without Champions League football next season after Manchester City’s hopes of qualifying suffered a major setback in a 2-2 draw with Premier League top-four rivals Arsenal at Eastlands on Sunday.
Arsenal twice came from behind, goals from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez cancelling out efforts from Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne, in what was City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s final home game in charge before he is replaced by Bayern Munich’s Guardiola after the end of the season.
This result left fourth-placed City just two points in front of Manchester United, who have a game in hand on their local rivals.
FA Cup finalists United, currently fifth, will definitely finish above City and deny Guardiola, who guided Barcelona to two Champions League titles before joining Bayern, a place in European football’s premier club competition if they end their league season with wins against West Ham and Bournemouth.
“We should have won that game,” Pellegrini told the BBC. “But Arsenal’s goals were good.
“Things are now out of our hands. We must keep our heads clean and chins up and try to win our last game (away to Swansea on Sunday).”
The draw meant Arsenal remained third but they moved to within two points of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, after their arch-north London rivals saw a miserable week end with a 2-1 loss at home to Southampton just hours earlier on Sunday.
“I am not disappointed because twice we were losing and twice we came back,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. “It was an unbelievable fight today.”
City were ahead as early as the eighth minute when Argentina striker Aguero got on the end of Fernandinho’s header into the box.
But just minutes later, France striker Giroud equalised for Arsenal when he rose unmarked to head in a corner.
City, beaten in the Champions League semi-finals by Real Madrid in midweek, restored their lead in the 51st minute when Belgium midfielder de Bruyne’s low shot from the edge of the box beat Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Arsenal rallied again when Chile striker Sanchez, ultimately denying compatriot Pellegrini a farewell home win, struck in the 68th-minute after getting on the end of Giroud’s flick into the box.
City though almost won the game late on, but Wilfried Bony’s shot hit the crossbar.
Concerningly for England, ahead of June’s European Championship, Gunners striker Danny Welbeck went off with an apparent knee injury in the first half.
England manager Roy Hodgson is due to name his France 2016 squad on Thursday.
Tottenham had already seen their slim chance of winning the Premier League evaporate with a 2-2 draw away to Chelsea on Monday — a result that confirmed 5 000/1 pre-season rank outsiders Leicester’s title triumph.
Sunday’s match at White Hart Lane started well enough for the hosts, with South Korea forward Son Heung-Min opening the scoring for Spurs in the 16th minute.
But two goals from Northern Ireland’s Steven Davis saw Southampton to victory, with Spurs now having gone three games without a win.
Tottenham, however, do still have a vastly superior goal difference to Arsenal and can finish above them for the first time since 1994/95 if they win at relegation-threatened Newcastle in their final game of the season.
Victory saw Southampton go above West Ham into sixth place and a Europa League spot.
“I’m disappointed but we’re still fighting,” said Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, who was in charge at Southampton until moving to Tottenham in 2014.
“It’s important to finish second,” the Argentinian added.
In Sunday’s other Premier League match, Liverpool rounded off a week that saw them beat Villarreal to reach the Europa League final with a 2-0 win at home to Watford, thanks to a goal in each half at Anfield from Joe Allen and Brazil’s Roberto Firmino.
“It was not brilliant but we did what was necessary,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.